Several years ago my friend and writing mentor Neil Chethik authored a book titled FatherLoss: How Sons of All Ages Come to Terms with the Deaths of Their Dads. Being the information-is-helpful kind of person I am I promptly bought three copies: one for my husband, one for my brother-in-law and one for my brother. I knew they would all be facing this sooner rather than later. And indeed my father-in-law passed away shortly afterward.
But lately I need another guide: a MotherLoss so to speak. One for me, to lead me down this dark and scary road of terminal illness and death. One for my friend Linda who just lost her dear mother yesterday. One for my new colleague Nancy whose mother came for a visit and stayed on, declining rapidly though that was not her - or anybody’s - plan. One for my sister Ruth who lives our looming loss miles away but no less painfully. One for my sister-in-law Amy who is beginning to face what we all eventually will. One for my neighbor and confidant Paula who lost her mother more quickly than she ever should have.
Since Mother’s Day - when I couldn’t seem to get myself to my computer to pen any profound or healing or whimsical thoughts - I have been pondering this big issue of MotherLoss. How it comes about slowly or not, and how we deal with it or not, and the baggage we bring to it or not, and the peace that comes from it or not. So many pathways to wind down and lose our own selves on. So many emotions to experience, compartmentalize, rehash, push away, spew forth and persevere through.
Here I stand myself, watching over a mother who has been dying since at least last November, but probably much longer than that. A woman who always assumed the worst (at least in terms of medical diagnosis) and then was rewarded for her assumptions over and over again, but who still manages to hang on to life.
And I am the daughter who took on the role of child-caring-for-parent but wishes this woman would leave the world peacefully sooner rather than later. And then feels like a non-daughter for even thinking such thoughts let alone praying them. A daughter who consults and reads and ponders how to make this passing easier, faster, less painful for Mom, but more importantly for me. A daughter who then realizes, “I have no control over this at all; I am not God and it is not my place to want to play Him.” A daughter who despite being afraid of my mother’s quick criticisms and cutting stares breaks into tears at the thought of this woman leaving me. A daughter who wonders why my friend’s mother, a jewel in God’s crown had to go so quickly, while here I still stand months into this.
And thus in turn I consider my friends who didn’t want to lose their mothers, way back then, or now, or ever. Daughters who had cherished sweet times that were not enough. I wonder what that loss felt like and want to try it on, if only to see which I would rather live. “Would my pain be easier, better?” I wonder. And in so wondering it dawns on me we are not – cannot – all be the same in our loss. We bring to it what life handed us: the good life and the bad end; the bad life and the good end; the something-in-between-that life and end.
So where is our book? Our MotherLoss? The slim volume that will analyze us, guide us, support us, sum us up? The one our own daughters, grown and gone off, will find when they come back to clean out our homes and take to reading at night as we lay dying, or dead.
Perhaps we daughters are writing it now. Each ragged breath, each near miss or confirmed diagnosis, each sleepless night, each sudden-scary-phone-call a page or paragraph or phrase added to it. And the authors are ourselves: Linda, Nancy, Ruth, Amy, Paula. All us daughters losing our mothers, each in our own way.